20 January 2016

Best Hail Mary Ever?

Think of the great Hail Mary passes in American football.  Staubach to Pearson at the end of '75 got the term into our vernacular.  My favorite Hail Mary was in '84 when Flutie hit Phelan to beat Miami in the Orange Bowl.  Not only was that a great game, but I was 14 years old, meaning great things happening in my life at that time would undoubtedly stand out in my mind for the rest of my life.  I loved the play so much that I devoted a chapter to it in my first book.  I saw a Hail Mary this past weekend that will rival Flutie's pass when the great Hail Mary passes are ranked again.

On Saturday night, 16 January 2016, the Green Bay Packers were trailing the Arizona Cardinals, 13-20, in an NFC division play-off game.  With just 5 s on the game clock, the Packers had one play left, but they were on the Arizona 41-yard line, and they needed a touchdown to force overtime.  I grabbed the screen image below just before the snap (click on the image for a larger view).
All pertinent information is supplied by NBC in the screen shot.  Aaron Rogers took the snap from the shotgun formation, and Arizona brought pressure.  Rogers stepped back and scrambled to his left.  It took 4.2 s for him to release his pass after the snap (click on the image for a larger view).
Look at that throw!  Rogers had a man in his face while falling back to his left as he threw.  I grabbed the screen image below from instant replay (click on the image for a larger view).
Pure athleticism and talent helped Rogers release the ball with a spiral.  You will note that he released the ball about 5.5 yards inside his own territory and well left of the left hash marks.  After spending 3.6 s in the air, Jeff Janis snagged the ball about 5 yards past the goal line (click on the image for a larger view).
I estimated that the ball travelled horizontally almost 61 yards (56 m).  Taking into account air resistance, but no wind (I do not know the weather conditions at the time of the pass), I calculated that Rogers released the pass at 56.4 mph (25.2 m/s or 90.7 kph) and 46.9 degrees above the horizontal.  Just after Rogers let go of the ball, the ball experienced a drag force from the air that was almost 22% of its weight.  Janis, who certainly deserves credit for an amazing catch, one that had to be reviewed to ensure he had possession throughout his fall to the turf, caught the ball travelling 49.0 mph (21.9 m/s or 78.8 kph).  The plot below shows the trajectory (click on the image for a larger view).
The maximum height of the ball was nearly 20 yards (18 m) above the turf.  That vertical distance represents two first downs!

After such an amazing play put the game into overtime, a coin flip fiasco gave the Cardinals first possession in overtime.  Their first play was a Palmer-to-Fitzgerald pass for 75 yards.  Two plays later, Fitzgerald caught the winning touchdown pass from Palmer.  Despite the loss, Aaron Rogers threw what has to be one of the greatest Hail Mary passes of all time.

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